Poplar Bluff 9-year-old addresses hundreds of educators

Updated: Feb. 13, 2018 at 5:02 PM CST
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Eugene Field Elementary School second graders Rayann Strange (right) and Abbie Spain deliver...
Eugene Field Elementary School second graders Rayann Strange (right) and Abbie Spain deliver the morning announcements under the direction of Esther Luna and Jessica Thurston.

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - A 9-year-old Eugene Field Elementary student was selected to introduce the keynote speaker at a regional conference in front of 600 educators.

Third grader Makayla Cantu set the stage for Brad Montague, the mastermind behind YouTube sensation Kid President, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, during the 10th annual Leader in Me Symposium in St. Charles.

"If I can speak in front of this school, I can speak in front of everybody," Makayla exclaimed. "Because we're loud."

Asked how she remembered her speech without looking down at notes, Makayla replied that she was in fact reading. "I read the wall," she said, explaining how she looked past the stage lights and imagined a teleprompter.

Cindy Robertson, Makayla's former second-grade teacher, is the one who submitted the young student's name for consideration in the speaking role. Envisioning the words on the back wall is a trick Robertson uses to bring a sense of comfort when singing at church, she revealed.

"That's the way Makayla is," Robertson stated. "You have a little conversation with her and 'boom,' life goes on. She's a rock star."

Makayla is a member of the media communications team at Eugene Field, which has achieved lighthouse status through The Leader in Me, the highest attainment under the cultural initiative. The communications team produces a daily broadcast of morning announcements featuring a weather report, the lunch menu, and a school news item.

Sponsors of the team, guidance counselor Esther Luna, and first-grade teacher Jessica Thurston, were also invited to the conference to present about their broadcasts. The videos are attracting attention among LIM schools, especially considering the anchors are only in grades 1-3.

The break-out session offered tips on how video broadcasts can be created in front of a green screen with minimal editing if a template is used, according to Luna, who plays the role of executive producer. Thurston, the field reporter, says the broadcasts are important because they help students find their voice – the eighth 'habit' under the program.

"There's a way bigger picture to this because it's giving children an opportunity to showcase their skills," Thurston said. "It's become the norm to be pulled out of your comfort zone here. We're empowering kids to realize they do have purpose."

Makayla has spoken before the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, presented during the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce's first Friday coffee, and was chosen to represent the public education sector during a legislative forum held at the state Capitol.

Last year, Keaton Willcut of Eugene Field was selected to introduce keynote speaker John O'Leary during the LIM Symposium in Independence.

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